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Football's 11 worst tackles of all time

Pedro Mendes, Ben Thatcher

11. Benjamin Massing on Claudio Caniggia

Cameroon vs Argentina, 1990 World Cup

Argentina's flying forward Claudio Caniggia was not to make it through the Italia '90 clash with Cameroon.

At least that's what the Indomitable Lions must have been told in their pre-match brief. This particularly powerful body-check came after Caniggia's impressive 80-yard solo dash failed to be halted by an attempted block on the halfway line and another cynical Cameroonian lunge moments later.

Massing's effort ensured his team-mates' ambitions were fulfilled, however, as his rhino-like charge sent the Argentine – just regaining his footing from the last attempt on his life – slamming into the turf.

Amusingly, Massing then kicked out at an opponent blocking the route to his lost boot, before putting it back on in the vain hope that the ref would allow him to play on. He didn't.

10. Nigel de Jong on Xabi Alonso

Netherlands vs Spain, 2010

There's something about World Cup finals that brings the worst out in players. 

The Netherlands' hack-hapiness was eventually punished by karma in Johannesburg as Spain lifted the trophy, but not before Vicente del Bosque's boys had taken some serious punishment. Referee Howard Webb was forced to dish out a record 14 yellow cards in the final, which eclipsed the previous record of six set in 1986. 

INTERVIEW Alonso: It felt like my body had been torn apart after De Jong's ‘tackle’

Johnny Heitinga was sent off, and Mark van Bommel's hatchet job was particularly memorable, but nothing epitomised the dirty Dutch quite like De Jong's studs-up karate kick to the chest of Xabi Alonso. Incredibly the former Manchester City enforcer escaped a red card, with Webb later admitting that his view was restricted. 

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Next page: "The most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football..."

9. Mario David on Leonel Sanchez

Chile vs Italy, 1962 World Cup

There are few matches that contain so many wince-inducing tackles that picking a 'most shocking' proves difficult. Then again, there aren't very many matches that are more commonly referred to as 'The Battle of Santiago'.

But the clash between Chile and Italy in World Cup '62 was one such encounter. It was a game that has to be seen to be believed; the British highlights introduced by David Coleman as "the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game".

The match was rife with shocking tackles, punches and police intervention. Giorgio Ferrini was ejected after 10 minutes, and Mario David followed half an hour later for kicking Leonel Sanchez in the head in what the commentator calls "one of the most cruel-blooded and lethal tackles I have ever seen".

It says something about the 'Battle of Santiago' that the referee, Ken Aston, was actually the man who revolutionised football's disciplinary system. Obviously harrowed by the events that took place on the field that day, it was Aston's idea to use red and yellow cards, and they have stuck since the 1970 World Cup.

8. Roy Keane on Alf-Inge Haaland

Manchester derby, 2001

The roots of this infamous knee-high tackle were bedded three years previously.

A mistimed Keane lunge at Leeds's Haaland resulted in a cruciate ligament injury for the United skipper – an injury to which the incensed Haaland was, unsurprisingly, less than sympathetic. The Norwegian stood over Keane's prone figure and denounced him (somewhat vociferously) as a faker.

Shockingly, Keane held a slight grudge about it all. The Irishman saw (or, rather, plotted) his opportunity for revenge in the 2001 Manchester derby, ensuring this 50-50 ball had similar odds of then-City star Haaland being able to walk again.

A red card, five-game suspension and £150,000 fine followed, but hardly seemed a fitting punishment after the level of pre-meditation was revealed in Keane's autobiography.

Next page: "I thought he was dead"

7. Harald Schumacher on Patrick Battiston

Germany vs France, 1982 World Cup semi-final

The iconic foul.

With the score at 1-1 in the 1982 World Cup semi-final, France substitute Patrick Battiston bore down on goal, chasing a long ball that had also alerted German keeper Harald Schumacher.

The two raced towards each other at speed, but neither backed out of this football version of chicken. Battiston was focused on the ball, and reached it first, firing past the onrushing custodian. Schumacher – obviously the smarter of the two – decided to ignore the ball completely, and concentrated on surviving a crash by leaping and turning his body into his opponent.

Schumacher slammed into the Frenchman, catching him full in the face and immediately knocking out three teeth. Battiston was prone on the turf, toothless and with vertebrae damage, but the referee decided no foul had been committed and resumed play, much to the astonishment of players and fans alike.

"I thought he was dead," said Michel Platini, "because he had no pulse and looked pale."

Germany eventually won the game on penalties after a 3-3 extra-time draw, and when the goalkeeper was informed of the damage he had caused he simply replied: "If that's all that's wrong with him, I'll pay him the crowns."

6. Axel Witsel on Marcin Wasilewski

Standard Liege vs Anderlecht 2009

Derby matches are always hot-blooded affairs, and the clashes between Standard Liege and Anderlecht are no different. But this fixture featured one terrible incident that has taken their rivalry to another level.

The season before, then-starlet Axel Witsel was the hero who scored the decisive penalty in Standard's play-off win against Anderlecht that brought their second successive title. In this derby, however, he committed one of the most hideous football tackles ever recorded on camera, with a savage lunge on Anderlecht defender Marcin Wasilewski leaving the Pole with a double open-tibia fracture, and the watching world wincing, appalled.

An unbelievably lenient €250 fine and 10-game ban followed – one that was soon reduced to eight matches, much to the consternation of Belgium and most of the football world. To further endear himself to the Anderlecht faithful, he leapt into another terrible challenge in the return derby (on Roland Juhasz) and see red once again.

Next page: Lobotomy, anyone? 

5. Chris Mavinga on Carcela

Genk vs Standard Liege, 2011

Mavinga only played nine league games for Genk while on loan from Liverpool in 2011, but he certainly made a mark in his final appearance for the Belgian side – or, more specifically, on poor Standard Liege player Carcela.

In attempting to hook a loose ball out of play, Mavinga inadvertently swung a boot that almost decapitated his Moroccan opponent, leaving him with a broken jaw and nose that required surgery. 

"I did not sleep well, I thought I had killed him," a distraught Mavinga said later – something his haunted victim attested to. "I realise that I've been very lucky," said Carcela. "Thank God I'm still alive. After all, I could be dead."

Mavinga never played for Liverpool and has since spent time at Rennes, Rubin Kazan, Stade Reims, Troyes and Toronto. Carcela can be found at Olympiakos these days. 

4. Graeme Souness on Gheorghe Rotariu

Rangers vs Steaua Bucharest, 1988

Calling Graeme Souness hot-headed is a bit like saying Donald Trump is divisive.

About two minutes into this video of Rangers' fine victory over Romania Steaua Bucharest, the Scot ploughed into his opponent's thigh with his studs raised, and a very deliberate downward thrust.

Skip to 1:55

While the offender may not be surprising, the offence is. The unusual thing about this particular incident is that the Sky Sports charisma-vacuum wasn't making a tackle. He had the ball at the time. That's right: Souness was dribbling, saw someone attempting to nick the ball from his toes, so nicked a chunk out of their leg before they got their tackle in.

He protested long and hard that he was in fact the innocent party, rubbing his leg and showing the proof (or lack of it) to the referee. Unfortunately for Souness the ref had eyes, and promptly sent him off. Rangers went out on aggregate.

Next page: Thatcher's summer of shame

3. Ben Thatcher on Pedro Mendes

Portsmouth vs Manchester City, 2004

The heat makes us all do funny things: we get a bit irritable, a bit snappy. It seems to affect some more than others, however, and Ben Thatcher is a fine example.

In the late summer hum of 2004 he went mental. During Manchester City's pre-season tour of China, his elbow caused Yang Chungang to suffer a collapsed lung, and less than three weeks later he became the most hated man in English football with a horrendous assault on Portsmouth's Pedro Mendes.

As he and Mendes ran for a loose ball near the touchline, Thatcher intentionally led with his elbow, sending the Portuguese sprawling into the advertising hoardings and knocking him unconscious. Mendes needed oxygen at pitchside and suffered a seizure while being transferred to hospital, where he spent the night.

Skip to 25 secs

The tackle was so bad that his own club issued Thatcher with a six-match ban on top of the FA's eight-game suspension. He was also served with a 15-match ban suspended for two years.

Portsmouth's Matt Taylor echoed the thoughts of the thousands watching, incensed by the referee's decision to only hand Thatcher a yellow card: "How can that not be a sending-off? What do you have to do, kill someone?" he fumed. 

2. Pepe on Javi Casquero

Real Madrid vs Getafe, 2009

There's seconds remaining in a clash with your local rivals, and you haul down one of the opposition inside the area. The scoreboard reads 2-2, and you could now be to blame for your side failing to pick up a point.

You're angry, and look around for something to kick – but all you can see is the opponent you felled, sprawled on the grass like a big blue piñata. So, you boot him several times and stand all over him before giving his mate a little smack in the face. Naturally.

Real Madrid's Pepe thought so, shown a red card and escorted from the pitch by team-mate Iker Casillas after his savage release of frustration all over Getafe's unlucky Casquero and his buddy Juan Albin.

Unfortunately for Pepe, the Spanish FA didn't agree and handed him an eight-game ban ruling him out for the rest of the season. And if you thought things couldn't get any worse for Pepe's plaything Casquero, his spot-kick was saved by Casillas before Gonzalo Higuain scored a brilliant winner.

Next page: Grand Final, grand pain

1. Commins Menapi on Riki van Steeden

Waitakere United vs Auckland City FC, 2007

Most people think New Zealand is a relatively soporific place. Shame nobody told Waitakere United striker Commins Menapi of the Solomon Islands before he unleashed this horror on Auckland City’s Riki van Steeden.

The Auckland player had been sent off in these two sides’ previous encounter – adding weight to the theory that strikers can't tackle – so there was definitely a feeling of unfinished business lingering in the atmosphere surrounding this New Zealand Football Championship Grand Final.

Menapi was elbowed in the head early on, which evidently left him seeing red. Twice, that is, after he was promptly dismissed for this foul and banned for six games. Steeden? A broken leg for his troubles.

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